Stern students departed chilly NYC for warmer shores this spring break, arriving in Casablanca to balmy breezes in a bustling metropolis. Surprisingly, an NYC outbound flight to Morocco is shorter than hopping over to London or Paris! Morocco is an affordable destination that offers a wide range of experiences across the country. We did learn an important lesson fairly quickly: jaywalking is a fact of life in Morocco, otherwise you’re likely to take three times as long to arrive at your destination. It’s also worth noting that French is a second language for most Moroccans, as the country was colonized by the French for almost 50 years in the first half of the 20th century. Allons-y!
Part one of the North African DBi was spent in Casablanca, learning from the ESCA School of Management’s professors and guest lecturers about the nation’s efforts to increase foreign investment across industries and to position not only the country but also the African continent for sustainable economic success. Little did we know how different Islamic finance is from Western financial tools and products; the key distinction is around Islamic principles on interest and debt. We were captivated by Lamia Merzouki, Deputy General Manager of Casablanca Finance City as she crafted a compelling argument for the port city being a critical financial hub for Africa. We gained a firm grasp on tourism efforts and brainstormed with Salim Mikram, Business Development Head of the Moroccan Agency for Tourism Development on methods to boost tourism, targeting the US. Most tourists currently come from France, Spain, the UK and China. Our classroom learnings helped set the stage for our first two corporate visits: Lesieur Cristal and HPS.
Lesieur Cristal manufactures oils, such as olive and sunflower, as well as personal and hygiene products. Many students had never toured a manufacturing facility before and were enthralled by the seamless production process—outfitted in appropriate attire and footwear, of course! On the other hand, HPS is a leading payment software company and during our visit, we had an engaging discussion with one of the co-founders. In addition to other insights, we were surprised to learn that mobile payments had been prevalent in Africa for decades before smartphones even took hold.
Our excursions in Casablanca took us to the ornate Hassan II Mosque, located over the water on the coast. Our resident expert Professor Abdelkarim Raddadi shared a detailed history of the mosque’s construction and national significance as we tried to grasp its magnitude: the mosque has a grand capacity of holding 25,000 worshippers (including in the outdoor space).
The second half of the week was spent in Marrakech, just a short three-hour bus ride from Casablanca. After getting settled in our next city, we relished the endless views from our hotel; to one side was the buzzing city, while the other revealed an orchard of olive trees and the distant, snow-capped Atlas Mountains. The last two days were packed with discussions of Morocco’s economic and political evolution and how interests versus ideologies were foundational in developing strong relationships with its neighbors. The afternoon included a stroll through the vivid colors in the Jardin Majorelle, followed by a 38-course tasting of street food, including some very unexpected dishes!
Professor Raddadi wrapped up our Moroccan lectures with negotiations and then we were off to La Mamounia, one of the best hotels in the world. Words failed us as we toured the grounds of the awe-inspiring, intricately designed hotel with the highest standards of service. Our last immersion was at the medina, or marketplace, where we were able to put our negotiation skills to work. Many of us traveled home with spices, pillows, rugs and more, thrilled to have supported local artisans and gaining truly unique mementos from the trip.
After just one week, all thirty-two students, full-time and part-time alike, walked away with lasting memories and captivating stories. We arrived in North Africa not knowing what to expect and returned home with full hearts and minds, having had our eyes opened to Morocco’s possibilities and rich network of resources. We are thankful that the NYU and ESCA teams provided this incredible opportunity and highly recommend you take the trip next year!